"Great corporate culture" has become a leading job selection criterion. Corporate culture encompasses the values and behaviors that contribute to the unique environment of a company. Establishing (or at least advertising) a desirable corporate culture is a goal of leading employers who want to attract the best talent to their company. It is so important that 85 percent of the S&P 500 have at least one or more pages dedicated to promoting their corporate culture on their respective websites, according to a 2013 study of office culture. Yet, human resources managers cite cultural mismatches as the primary factor contributing to turnover of employees.
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Clearly, there is a disconnect between what is advertised during the interview process and what is the reality of the company culture. Here are three strategies to help you assess the corporate culture of a prospective company and to thrive in the role after you start.
Research Strategically. Most of us would never buy a car based on looking at the sales brochure alone. We would take a test drive, look at online reviews of its performance, value and reliability, and likely talk to friends who have the same car before making a final decision. Yet, many job seekers make their decision based only on the brochure -- what the website, management and employees portray during the interview process. Before you accept a role, do your due diligence.
Start by reaching out to any connections you may have at that company and inquire about their experience. Sample questions should include: How is performance/success measured? What are the core beliefs -- customer first, employee first, management first, profits first? How are changes communicated from management? What have been some recent changes? How are decisions made? What is the average tenure of co-workers? What is the general office culture? You may also want to ask customers or competitors of the firm their thoughts, as well. Cast a wide net to get as much information as possible to see if the company lines up with your goals and beliefs.
Next, use online resources like Glassdoor as well as the company website and social media to get a more in-depth view of the organization. Make sure to research multiple angles -- especially for a company that has some negative online reviews. In general, happy employees don't take the time to go post on Glassdoor that they are happy. However, a couple of disgruntled employees who were recently terminated may spend hours trying to ruin a company's reputation. Be sure to consider the source and factor in varied viewpoints.
Read Between the Lines. Once you have learned enough to feel good about the company, it's time to move forward with the interview process. Use your in-person interviews not just to compete for the job, but also to observe the corporate culture in action. If you wait in the lobby before a meeting, look around to see how colleagues interact. Do employees seem happy and motivated? Are they relating in a way that is ideal for you? Take time to notice not just words, but body language and the physical surroundings. This can show you a lot about the corporate lifestyle of the company. If you have the chance to be interviewed by two people at once, it is also helpful to see how they treat one another. These "micro messages" paint a more realistic picture of the culture than the website. Watch carefully to make sure it mirrors your values.
Consider the questions you are asked during interviews. Are they questions you would ask? Do they try to bring out the best in you or test how you handle stress? Are they big-picture or very task-focused? Do you feel the process is effective in assessing your ability to perform? No matter how rigorous the process, if the culture is a match for you, you should respect and trust the company more with each interaction. If the process is causing you to doubt or question if you are valued, that may be a sign of a mismatch. If this process has strengthened your interest in the role, most likely, you have found an ideal culture.
Successful Integration. Put your research and observations to work once you start a new role. With every career change, you have the chance to establish yourself in the most ideal way. Start by asking your manager or a trusted mentor a few questions about best practices at the firm. For example, do new employees jump right in with their ideas in a team meeting, or do managers primarily speak? Do people make small talk or do they focus on their work independently until lunch? Are people formal in their communication or more familiar? Learning some of the "unspoken" rules allows a more rapid transition from newcomer to trusted colleague. Look for patterns and behaviors that seem effective in your department. And, use every opportunity to meet people in person in your first weeks on the job. Trust and rapport are created most rapidly that way.
Feeling valued and working with others who we trust are universal desires of productive employees. However, each of us is unique in what behaviors and communication patterns make us feel valued, safe and inspired. A great work culture is not "one-size-fits-all." The key is to understand individual needs and ensure they will be met in a new role. This is an active process, but yields the best results in picking the right job and thriving over the long term.
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